Bystander action

Bystander action is the most effective means of combating sexism, racism and homophobia.

Although effective, people are reluctant to act out of fear of being hurt, victimised, falling out of favour with friends or making matters worse. Bystander action can change attitudes and culture over time and create a more equal and respectful society.

Remember, doing nothing does harm and even small actions can make a difference. If you sense or think something said or being done is not right, chances are you are correct and others around you probably feel the same. Trust your gut instinct!

While bystander action is seen as one of the most effective ways of stopping or preventing harm or supporting the victim, most people don’t do anything when they could have helped.

Barriers to bystanders taking action

  • Don’t notice or recognise what you are seeing or hearing as problematic or harmful. Due to what has been accepted as normal in society, e.g. harassment, sexist, racist or homophobic comments/ jokes.
  • Don’t feel it is your responsibility to intervene in a situation that does not involve you.
  • Don’t know what to do, so don’t do anything or just remove oneself from the situation.
  • Fearful of taking action, in case might make matters worse for the victim or for yourself.
  • Leave it to others to do something, called the bystander effect.
  • Worried about what others might think, particularly friends or peers and fear of victimisation.

Be an active bystander

You can be an active bystander face to face or online. There are some keys steps and different ways to intervene, depending on the situation. The important thing is that you do something to intervene or support the victim. You may not get it quite right the first time, but practice makes perfect.

Key steps

  • Notice and observe the situation and assess what is best to do while staying safe.

  • Identify if there is a problem. If it is making you feel uncomfortable, chances are this is the same for others. Trust your instinct.

  • Take responsibility, don’t wait for others.

  • Decide how best to help, keeping the safety of yourself and others in mind.

  • Have the confidence/ capacity to help.

  • Take action.

Please watch this video which demonstrates bystander action in practice.

Ways to be an active bystander

Whatever action you decide to take, remember to focus on the behaviour of the individual. Don’t call someone racist, sexist or homophobic. This may escalate the situation and will most likely make the person(s) defensive rather than reflect on their actions or words. There are many different ways you can be an active bystander. The one you use will depend on the situation and your level of confidence.

Remember the 4D’s

Where you step in directly to intervene. You can say something like, 'I realise you think you are only joking, but I don’t find that funny. It makes me feel...' or 'why do you think that’s so funny?'

Where you indirectly intervene. De-escalate, change the subject or interrupt. For example, you could step direct in line with the person being harassed. Then say something like, 'hey, let’s not go there' or show disapproval by getting up or walking away from the group.

Inform or report to someone in authority. Call or get help from nearby. Record incident on a phone and report but only if safe to do so. Report internally to:

  • Safer Community
  • Security.

Or report it externally to:

  • Police
  • E-safety, etc.

Support the victim after the event. Check they are ok. Show them empathy and that this behaviour is not ok and provide them with relevant information on how to report the incident and to get support.

Please watch this video on how to be an active bystander online.

Support and resources

Internal support

External support

  • Emergency: Triple Dial: 000
  • Police: You can report incidents to the police and find your local police station here.
  • E-Safety Commissioner: provides a range of online safety and resources and handles online reports and complaints.